Burning man 1926

The first public burning of New Mexico’s Zozobra, an effigy of a man, took place 85 years ago this week in Sante Fe during Fiesta. Two previous burnings, in 1924 and 1925, took place privately.

The New Mexican reported on that first public event:

“Following vespers at the Cathedral, a long procession headed by the Conquistadores Band marched to the vacant space back of the city hall, where Zozobra, a hideous effigy figure 20 feet high, produced by the magic wand of Will Shuster, stood in ghastly silence illuminated by weird green fires. While the band played a funeral march, a group of Kiwanians in black robes and hoods stole around the figure, with four others seated before the green fires.

“When City Attorney Jack Kennedy on behalf of the absent Mayor, solemnly uttered the death sentence of Zozobra, with Isadoro Armijo as interpreter, and fired several revolver shots at the monster, the green fires changed to red, the surrounding ring of bonfires was ignited, red fires blazed at the foot of the figure and shortly a match was applied to its base and leaped into a column of many colored flames.

“As it burned the encircling fires blazed brighter, there was a staccato of exploding fireworks from the figure and round about, and throwing off their black robes the spectators emerged in gala costume, joining an invading army of bright-hued harlequins with torches in a dance around the fires as the band struck up ‘La Cucaracha.’… It brought out the biggest crowd of merrymakers seen here for years.”

The event has been conducted every year since, with this year’s burning set for Sept. 8. But Sante Fe has long since tried to hold down the size of the crowd in the 76,000-person town, which is pushed up to above 100,000 during Fiesta. Bar coded tickets for entry into Fort Marcy Park, where the burning takes place, are being used this year to try to keep the crowd below 25,000.